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Phytochemicals are natural bioactive compounds produced by plants that work with nutrients and dietary fiber to protect against disease. Currently, the term is being used only for those plant chemicals that may have health-related effects but are not considered essential nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins).
The natural pigments that give vegetables and fruits their characteristic colors is just one important group of phytochemicals. Some of the pigments in vegetables, for example beta carotene in carrots and sweet potatoes, lycopene in tomatoes and lutein in spinach, have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants have the ability to block or reduce damage of cell’s DNA from harmful free radicals produced in the body.
Each color group has a unique combination of nutrients and phytochemicals that has been associated with specific health benefits, such as heart health, vision health, bone health, a healthy immune system, and risk reduction for different kinds of cancers.
Some phytochemicals, like Indoles, which are found in cabbages, stimulate enzymes that make the estrogen less effective and could reduce the risk for breast cancer. Allyl sulfides, another group of phytochemicals found in onion and garlic, stimulate enzymes that help the body get rid of harmful toxins and strengthen the immune system.
When you eat fruits and vegetables, hundreds of phytochemicals, well balanced and working as the whole composition, are easily absorbed to provide the maximum health benefits. In contrast, supplements or pills contain large doses of only one or two phytochemicals. These isolated supplements have not proven to be effective or even safe.
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